If Socorro Electric Co-op plans to seek the favor of Socorro City Council members, it’ll have to commit to two things: better rates and no long-term franchise agreement.
Last week, Socorro City council members had a frank discussion with Socorro Electric Co-op’s Chief Executive Officer Joseph Herrea, Trustee Leroy Anaya, and its Director of Communications Jerrid Williams.
With the city’s 25-year franchise agreement ending on May 17, 2024, the co-op contends not renewing the agreement would not be beneficial for its customers. Herrera argued, if the city didn’t renew its agreement or start to build its own utility it would penalize the co-op and its members. He also said, if the city continued pursuit of its own utility, it would force a significant rate increase to be made.
While the agreement could be terminated in May, according to Mayor Ravi Bhasker, a Judge indicated the agreement could continue month-to-month until a new agreement is reached. “We’d personally like to see you get away from Tri-state and go to Guzman. The city doesn’t want to be trapped into another 25-year franchise agreement,” Bhasker said, noting the use of Facebook by the Co-op Director of Communications to scare co-op customers was not appropriate.
“The city doesn’t have in mind terminating the agreement in May,” said Councilman Michael Olguin Jr. “We want to see what a good solid franchise agreement looks like. I’ve requested that in the past.”
Councilman Anton Salome scolded the co-op on its lack of progress the past during the past 13 years. “Mr. Herrera is the face of the problem, and the co-op has deterred businesses from coming to Socorro (because of the high rates). Our businesses have been stifled. They can go to Los Lunas and pay 5 cents a kilowatt hour. Manufacturing businesses … they won’t come here. It’s too expensive. There’s been a long term of silence between the city and the co-op board. We need to work together for the betterment of our community.”
The city is proposing the transformation to a new city-owned electric entity to be completed in stages.
The first stage would be the industrial park area which includes: Socorro High School complex, the Socorro General Hospital complex, the Rodeo Arena, the Dicalite perlite mine, and the New Mexico Tech complex.
Rural customers’ concerns
Forrie Smith of San Acacia said there is a lot of apprehension among the “rural people” on what the city is trying to do. The apprehension, he said, is what happens when city takes away 35 percent of the co-op’s business.
“I don’t live in the city, but the people who live in the rural area are concerned. You guys take over the poles and the rates will go higher.”
“The only threat you’ve heard is from them (Socorro Electric Co-op),” Bhasker said. “They’re saying they will raise the rates. They sent out postcards. We didn’t send out those crazy postcards to make people agitated.”
A recent mailing pointed out SEC members would lose if the Mayor (Ravi Bhasker) gets his way. “If the city takes the key accounts from the cooperative, SEC may be forced to crease rates for all the other members.”
Councilman Damien Ocampo assured the Socorro Electric Co-op members in attendance, “All of us want more reasonable rates and to the get the rates down. I want what’s best for our greater community. We all want to be good neighbors … whether we live in the county to the west or north. I know everyone is anxious to see the numbers.”
Herrera said the co-op hasn’t had a rate increase since 2011. “The co-op wants to look into an extension of the franchise agreement.”
During the meeting, Pro Tem Mayor Mary Ann Chavez-Lopez noted she and others would be agreeable to a month-to-month or a year-to-year extension – but not 25 years. But the city, she indicated, ultimately needs a better electric utility rate.
Several council members indicated they planned to visit Aztec, N.M., on their own time schedules in the near future to see how it converted from Tri-State to Guzman Electric.
In addition, the CEO of Guzman plans to meet with the Co-Op board in the near future. “I think it’s good they’re going to meet with them,” said new Councilman Joel Partridge. “This is where the rubber meets the road.
In other business:
• Site Southwest was awarded the bid for engineering services for Sedillo Park Renovations. Others submitting bids were DHM Design, Molzen Corbin and THK Associates/North Valley Design.
• Approved a resolution concerning Community Development Block Grant federal requirements for citizen participation.